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Iraq War Seriously Impacting E. Africa Tourism - 2003-03-21

The Kenyan government has called for a swift end to the war in Iraq, which is having a serious impact on East Africa's crucial tourism sector. Thousands of visitors have already canceled their holidays to Kenya.

Two cruise ships carrying more than 3,000 tourists have called off their trip to the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa. The visitors were due to arrive on Sunday and Monday.

There are fears that this is just a foretaste of the slump that is going to hit East Africa's tourism sector following the outbreak of the war in Iraq.

The U.S. and British governments recently warned their citizens against visiting East Africa for fear of terrorist attacks.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka says he has been holding talks with British embassy officials in Nairobi to persuade them to retract their travel advisory.

Mr. Musyoka says tourists should rest assured that the Kenyan government is on the alert against any potential terrorist attacks. "I should take this opportunity really to assure all the visitors to this country that those travel advisories notwithstanding, the government of the Republic of Kenya is taking the matter of security for both Kenyans and our visitors very, very seriously," he said. "Where there is a need to intensify security measures we are not taking it lightly."

Tourism is one of Kenya's most important foreign exchange earners, employing one in 15 Kenyan workers. And industry sources say there is a strong likelihood of jobs losses if the war in Iraq does not end quickly.

Rose Knew of the Kenya Tourism Board says they are already re-thinking their marketing strategy to try and minimize the slump. "I know that we are going to be hurt," she said. "Definitely we will. But I think what we are trying to do now is we are trying even to refocus our strategies. We are trying to target the domestic tourism. We are trying to target regional tourism, whereby people from African countries don't feel like it is threatening to travel to Kenya."

The island of Zanzibar, in neighboring Tanzania, has been hard-hit by U.S., British and Australian government warnings not to visit for fear of terrorist attacks. The warnings were issued in January, at the start of the peak holiday season.

Tourist arrivals have since dwindled to a trickle, with most hotels now empty. More than 600 employees have been laid off, with losses estimated at millions of dollars.

Tourism is the mainstay of the island's economy after cloves.